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FIGHTING LIKE HELL

The pioneering labor organizer Mother Jones said, “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.”
 
That pretty much sums up the priorities for Haiti today.
 
The fighting like hell has always been fierce in the nation that was once called the “pearl of the Antilles,” the wealthiest of all Caribbean colonies – the wealth derived from Africans slaves for French colonialists. In the 1790s, the slaves began a rebellion that merged subterfuge on the plantations with guerrilla warfare by escapees from the plantations. In 1804 they won, thus creating the only successful slave revolution ever, the first Black republic in the world, and the second independent republic in the Western Hemisphere.
 
Though liberated from France and from slavery, neither they nor their descendants ever really became free. Self-proclaimed emperors and presidents-for-life exploited the poor for their own behalf, as well as for the large landowners and commercial sector. State neglect of citizens’ needs, feudal agricultural practices, and violent security forces kept people trapped in vicious poverty and suppression of their rights. Concentration of land and resources has further devastated the vast majority, 54% of whom today live on less than $1 a day. 
 
Foreign governments have contributed to this state of affairs. The independent nation was born with a crippling debt to the French equivalent to $21 billion today (France threatened to invade if Haiti didn’t compensate it for its loss of ‘property).  As soon as Haiti became free, too, the U.S. slapped on a decades-long embargo to ensure that word of the revolution didn’t reach slaves back home. 
 
The role of foreign powers in the Twentieth Century has been no kinder. It has included a 20-year U.S. occupation (1915-1934) during which the Marines killed many. The U.S. also created a vicious new security force, the precursor to the Tontons Macoutes. Later the U.S. strongly supported the brutal three-decade dictatorship of Papa and Baby Doc (1957-1986).  More recently, the superpower helped oust the democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide not once, but twice (1991 and 2004).
 
Contemporary economic policies of the U.S., IMF, World Bank, and others have aggravated what Haitians call the ‘development of underdevelopment.’ Free trade has destroyed agricultural production, in turn contributing to a food crisis and growing a sweatshop economy with farmers forced to emigrate to Port-au-Prince to search for work. The original foreign debt to France has been replaced by a current $1.05 billion debt to the IMF and others. The international financial institutions will surely never get back the capital, but their creditor role does allow them to largely control the Haitian government’s economic policies.
 
Throughout the constant political and economic oppression has run another constant. It is a highly organized grassroots movement which has never given up the battle its ancestors began more than 200 years ago. The movement is composed of organized women, peasants, clergy and laity, workers, and others. Its mobilization, protests, and advocacy have brought down dictators, staved off some of the worst of economic policies aimed at others’ profit, and kept themselves from ever fitting into anyone else’s plan. Haitian society has been able to keep alive a rich culture and a solidarity economy, in which neighbors and strangers care for each other’s needs.
 
The Haitian people may not yet have gained the rights and economic justice they deserve, but neither have they given up.  Yolette Etienne, director of Oxfam Haiti, said years ago: “Bamboo symbolizes Haitian people to a T. Bamboo takes whatever adversity comes along, but afterwards it straightens itself back up.”
 
Already, after one of the worst natural disasters in world history, they are straightening themselves back up.  Here are the priorities that nineteen people’s organizations articulated in a joint statement on January 27, quoted directly:
·     To contribute to defending the main gains made by the popular and social movements, now threatened by the new situation;
·     To respond to the urgent immediate needs of the people by setting up community service centers to respond with: food, primary health care, medical and psychological assistance;
·     To take advantage of the presence of the international press in our country to present a different image to that disseminated by the imperialist forces; and
·     To establish new ways of overcoming the isolation and separation which are among the key weaknesses of our organizations.
 
You go, Haitians. Fight like hell for the living.
 
As Mother Jones knew, we in the U.S. have much to learn from you.

Beverly Bell first went to Haiti as a teenager. Since then she has dedicated most of her life to working for democracy, women’s rights, and economic justice in that country. She founded or co-founded six organizations and networks dedicated exclusively to supporting the Haitian people, including the Lambi Fund of Haiti. She worked for both presidents Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Rene Preval and wrote Walking on Fire: Haitian Women’s Stories of Survival and Resistance (Cornell University Press, 2001). Today she is associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and runs the economic justice group Other Worlds (www.otherworldsarepossible.org).

Comments

jap21's picture

Hello Beverly

I am in awe of your leadership to help Haitians. All you have said here is so true, so devastating, so touching. I think your work will go far beyond what you can see right now. Keep it up.

The ones who cannot be there, but are deeply concerned and sad about the situation, can only help by writing about these things, donating, and praying.

In my case, I have come up with an idea that can save many lives from extreme violence and poverty. I, together with the Foundation I work for, have opened a petition page to ask the World Band and Unifem to see the reality of the catastrophe and PUT MONEY DIRECTLY IN THE HANDS OF HAITIAN WOMEN. We are not being original really. The national Government in Bolivia has created a bonus for women, a small amount of money that helps them throughout the month when they have small babies. I am not a fan of socialism, to tell you the truth, but I am not a fan of capitalism either. I just think that besides politics and besides what most economists will think, this is the best idea of the Bolivian Government.

Bolivia and Haiti share similar poverty levels. We know what it is like to be a woman, to be poor, and to live at the expense of extreme weather conditions. So we can imagine what it is like to live in a devastated place like Haiti, which was not really heaven before the earthquake.

Women of the Americas need unity. We need to get together to ask, to tell, to demand global institutions to put a small amount of money in the hands of Haitian women. These brave women need to have their dignity back. You will agree with me that there is nothing like being free to decide what to buy. Many women in Haiti will be suffering from domestic violence and will be driven into prostitution if we cannot give them a hand, a direct hand.

Please think about it. I even think we should also ask the French government to help, now that I know how they recovered their money. But I am only one voice. I am asking everyone to think about this and support the petition. It would be awesome if you can join us in this effort.

Have you tried to break a piece of paper? Easy. But if you try to tear a bunch of ten pieces of paper, it is impossible. This is the kind of unity that we need. Women in the Americas need to support Haitian sisters. No matter what the economists or all the men surrounding us think.

Here is the link where you can sign the petition:

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/put-money-in-the-hands-of-haitian-women

People who oppose this petition have very little arguments. People who don´t want to sign it or do not care about this reality have better reasons, which are understandable, but are also changeable. When you think about it, money has been there to help out big economies, big banks, rich people... so no one can tell me theres is no money to help Haitian women. They can find it and all women from America and the world will help. They have to begin though.

Hugs,

Jackie

Jacqueline Patiño FundActiva
Tarija - Bolivia
South America
www.jap21.wordpress.com

jap21's picture

Hello Beverly

I am in awe of your leadership to help Haitians. All you have said here is so true, so devastating, so touching. I think your work will go far beyond what you can see right now. Keep it up.

The ones who cannot be there, but are deeply concerned and sad about the situation, can only help by writing about these things, donating, and praying.

In my case, I have come up with an idea that can save many lives from extreme violence and poverty. I, together with the Foundation I work for, have opened a petition page to ask the World Band and Unifem to see the reality of the catastrophe and PUT MONEY DIRECTLY IN THE HANDS OF HAITIAN WOMEN. We are not being original really. The national Government in Bolivia has created a bonus for women, a small amount of money that helps them throughout the month when they have small babies. I am not a fan of socialism, to tell you the truth, but I am not a fan of capitalism either. I just think that besides politics and besides what most economists will think, this is the best idea of the Bolivian Government.

Bolivia and Haiti share similar poverty levels. We know what it is like to be a woman, to be poor, and to live at the expense of extreme weather conditions. So we can imagine what it is like to live in a devastated place like Haiti, which was not really heaven before the earthquake.

Women of the Americas need unity. We need to get together to ask, to tell, to demand global institutions to put a small amount of money in the hands of Haitian women. These brave women need to have their dignity back. You will agree with me that there is nothing like being free to decide what to buy. Many women in Haiti will be suffering from domestic violence and will be driven into prostitution if we cannot give them a hand, a direct hand.

Please think about it. I even think we should also ask the French government to help, now that I know how they recovered their money. But I am only one voice. I am asking everyone to think about this and support the petition. It would be awesome if you can join us in this effort.

Have you tried to break a piece of paper? Easy. But if you try to tear a bunch of ten pieces of paper, it is impossible. This is the kind of unity that we need. Women in the Americas need to support Haitian sisters. No matter what the economists or all the men surrounding us think.

Here is the link where you can sign the petition:

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/put-money-in-the-hands-of-haitian-women

People who oppose this petition have very little arguments. People who don´t want to sign it or do not care about this reality have better reasons, which are understandable, but are also changeable. When you think about it, money has been there to help out big economies, big banks, rich people... so no one can tell me theres is no money to help Haitian women. They can find it and all women from America and the world will help. They have to begin though.

Hugs,

Jackie

Jacqueline Patiño FundActiva
Tarija - Bolivia
South America
www.jap21.wordpress.com

jodelight's picture

powerful

Beverly,

Wow, wow. Your article about Haiti, past and present is absolutely dynamic. The people of Haiti have been fighting like hell for hundreds of years. Incredible firey imagery. I greatly appreciate your words and efforts in relaying the state of Haiti right now.
“Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living.” Thank you Mother Jones, and thank you Beverly.

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